Best Programs: Business

This popular degree encourages entrepreneurship and innovation—and leads to jobs
By H.G. Watson

March 1, 2024

It can be easy to imagine the future of a commerce student: a degree in business is often the first step to working at a large bank, an accounting firm or a big company.

But these are only a handful out of thousands of opportunities awaiting business students. Many will start their own companies. Some will help find solutions to complex problems of supply chain management or green energy production. Others will market exciting new artificial intelligence software. More still will step into project management roles across a wide array of industries. 

Business programs across Canada are embracing open-ended futures for their students, offering programs that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation alongside traditional offerings, like accounting.

It’s why business and commerce are some of the most popular programs in Canada. During the 2021–22 school year, over 420,000 students were enrolled in programs that fall under the umbrella of business, management and public administration: an increase of roughly 44,000 since 2016, making it the most common field of study in the country.

Students should consider what they want to do post-graduation before choosing the kind of business degree they want to pursue. If they are strong in math or want to work for a bank or accounting firm, they’ll likely flourish in a program that has a strong focus on commerce or finance. Others might know they want to start their own business, or prefer having more autonomy in the workplace. For these students, an ideal program is one that focuses on entrepreneurship. 

Business programs often allow students to combine majors and minors across different programs, which provides multiple pathways post-graduation and a breadth of understanding and experience, making them better at what they choose to do. For example, students may choose to study business and psychology, a combination that might make them stellar marketers with a good sense of human behaviour, or lead them into the social sciences, where they’ll be able to draw on their business degree when they are running a large psychology practice.

Other, more practical concerns may affect where a student chooses to pursue a business education. Many employers are looking for people who already have job experience, so programs that offer a co-op component are a popular option. In these programs students get 12 to 16 months of paid work experience before they even get a degree. It’s an opportunity to combine the theory they’ve learned in the classroom with practical experience, and a chance to network with employees at their co-op placement, which can help them land a job quickly post-graduation. The University of Waterloo estimates that about 96 per cent of its co-op students are employed in jobs related to their studies after graduation. 

Even if the program doesn’t have a co-op option, students should consider other avenues the school offers to gain experience, such as clubs and competitions, or opportunities to work on real-life business problems for clients in the classroom. If students are walking into school with a great idea for a new business, one affiliated with an accelerator or digital startup hub would make the most sense.

Standout Business Programs

Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics

University of Guelph

(Photo courtesy of Guelph University)

The bachelor of commerce from the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at Guelph offers a unique set of majors for those who are looking for specialization beyond accounting, marketing and finance. Students can study sport and event management, food and agricultural business, real estate, and hospitality and tourism management, with minors available in areas such as entrepreneurship, international business and sustainable business. Students from all majors are eligible to apply for co-op experiences. 

The Smith School of Business

Queen’s University

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(Photo courtesy of Queen’s University)

The Smith School of Business at Queen’s boasts small class sizes, and opportunities like applying for one of the Commerce Society’s 750 student-led leadership roles. The first two years of the program immerse students in the study of business, covering topics such as introductions to commerce and finance. In third and fourth year, students dive into electives on topics like accounting, international business and digital technology. Queen’s also offers a certificate in social impact, a dual bachelor of commerce with a second degree, a double degree from Peking University in Beijing, and a six-year program where successful candidates gain a B.Com. and a J.D. from Queen’s Law. 

Sauder School of Business

University of British Columbia

(Photo courtesy of the University of British Columbia)

At UBC’s Sauder School of Business, first-year students take all courses, and participate in activities and events, with a cohort of 30 peers, helping them to make meaningful connections with one another. The school offers some unique opportunities, like a concentration in sustainability and social impact and the chance to study global supply chain and logistics management in China and Denmark. The school also offers a co-op program, and says that half the students in the 2021–22 year were hired by their co-op employer. 

Rotman School of Management

University of Toronto

(Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto)

Students in the Rotman School of Management are just minutes away from Bay Street in downtown Toronto. But they don’t even need to leave campus to meet some of the top thinkers in management, banking and economics in the country, including city-planning guru Richard Florida and founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, Ajay Agrawal. Some students may choose to do a semester or summer abroad at one of the 130 partner universities U of T has exchanges with. There are also several experiential learning programs where students can try their hands at activities like portfolio management or launching their own business idea.

Ivey Business School

Western University

(Photo courtesy of Western University)

Western’s Ivey Business School takes a unique approach to undergraduate education. Students can apply in high school, but they spend the first two years in a faculty of their choosing before joining the honours business administration program for years three and four, providing they meet certain academic requirements. (Students can also apply while studying at Western.) This keeps classes small: the entire yearly cohort hovers around 75 to 77 people. Students study and move through the two-year program together, learning about subjects like accounting, marketing and operations largely by analyzing real-world case studies.